- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

WITH THE 5TH MARINES, Iraq, March 21 (UPI) — The aftermath of the first skirmishes with Iraqi troops has struck America's premier fighting force in different ways: feelings range from relief to frustration, even anger, that initial combat was less intense than the Marines had imagined.

"Cowards," muttered a forward air controller attached to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, one of the first units to enter southern Iraq from the Kuwaiti desert after a six-week wait.

"I should have shot him," said a corporal, describing how an Iraqi soldier in a trench brought up his rifle then dropped it at the last minute.

The bravado, however, was tempered Friday with other emotions. The corporal, who later missed stepping on a land mine by a few feet was visibly shaken, though he'd never admit it to his comrades.

Marines congratulated Staff Sgt. Kevin Tinsely for his confirmed kill, which occurred while clearing trenches. Tinsley, however, wasn't smiling. He had the look of someone with something on his mind, something only he could deal with and deal with alone.

"I know it wasn't intense," Gunnery Sgt. Ron Jenks remarked. "But I think its going to get a lot harder the farther north we go."

Jenks is a 17-year veteran of the Marines. In the first Gulf War in 1991, he was a corporal in charge of a squad.

The men listen to him intently. And his admonitions about keeping a clear mind when going into combat, and that adrenalin alone won't take you far, are heeded religiously.

Bravo Company breached the Iraqi border in the small hours of Thursday morning in the opening gambit of the land war to oust Saddam Hussein and disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

Their mission: to seize and secure a gas and oil separation plant in the al-Ramallah oil fields, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the border before Iraqi troops could destroy it in a scorched earth defense. The mission was partly successful — the plant was seized but the natural gas part of the facility was burning when they arrived.

Minefields had been bombed earlier, as was an artillery battery at the facility. Ground troops, however, put up a brief and sporadic fight before surrendering.

Four Marines — from Alpha Company — were wounded in the pre-dawn fighting. Three from a land mine or other explosive device; one from a bullet to the thigh.

As dawn broke and the area was completely secured, scores of Iraqi soldiers began crawling out of their foxholes and surrendering. First one or two on their own; later groups of 10 or more.

After being searched, they were placed in a compound-like area of the plant, where they were given water and fed while awaiting transport to the rear.

Like the victorious Marines, the expressions of the vanquished ran the gamut of emotions. From pensiveness, to fear, to outright boredom as they awaited whatever fate lay ahead.

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